By Jake Flatley

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A message of unity, the expression of the power of prayer and a call to action was expressed Tuesday by leaders of all faiths in West Virginia when addressing social injustice and racism in the United States.

The West Virginia Council of Churches held an Interfaith press conference, “A Call to Justice,” on the steps of St. John’s Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston to speak on the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor and the issue of racism and white supremacy from a faith perspective.

Nine religious leaders from all backgrounds and denominations spoke on the steps with social distancing practices and masks on due to COVID-19.

“The time has come to stop talking for all of us. The time has come to demand change. The time has come to unite together and the time has come to cold call everyone and hold everyone accountable,” Right Reverend W. Mike Klusmeyer, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia said on Tuesday.

Klusmeyer said he was ordained 40 years ago this week and took a racial training program as part of the process. He said 40 years later it remains just talk and no action.

Rabbi Victor Urecki of B’nai Jacob in Charleston also demanded action. He said for far too long, people like himself have been silent when black voices are crying out at the constant injustice, violence, and oppression.

“We have been indifferent to the systemic racism prevalent in law enforcement, criminal justice and economic policies. We have accepted in our own minds what the Egyptians did, it was simply a burden to be tolerated. That has to end,” Urecki said.

Peaceful protests on social injustice and police brutality in the wake of the police custody death of Floyd have been held all over the state and nation as thousands have taken to the streets.

Rev. ‘Al’ Dillard, the Presiding Elder of African Methodist Episcopal Church Third District said on Tuesday, the same day as Floyd’s funeral in Houston, that he supports all protests but not the rioting and looting.

He said a lot can be done with marching and prayer.

“I want to tell my young brothers and sisters that stand and march that when you march, pray before you march. We need God’s guidance,” Dillard said.

“I believe the problem we are dealing with legislation can’t change it. But if we as God’s people can get together, Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, whatever church you belong to, if we get together and show people that if we pray together then God can make things change.”

Molly Linehan Belcher, a member of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Parish and representing the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston said racism in the society is everywhere including Charleston.

She mentioned the 2016 death of 15-year old James Means, an African-American teen shot and killed on Charleston’s East End, one block from Abundant Life Ministries Church.

“Catholics join with many others across the state and nation who have been outraged and grieved by the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and our own James Means. James was only 15 when three years ago he was killed just one mile from here,” Belcher said.

“As Christians, we must root out our racist ideas within our families, our communities and within ourselves.”

Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, the Bishop of the West Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and President of the West Virginia Council of Churches, Rev. Roberta Smith, President of the Charleston Black Ministerial Alliance, Rev. Kay Albright, Pastor, Bridges of Grace United Church of Christ and Interfaith Program Unit Chair, and Rev. Jeffrey S. Allen, Executive Director, West Virginia Council of Churches all spoke out as well.

Ibtesam Sue Barazi, the Vice President of the West Virginia Islamic Association spoke and led a prayer.